Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Trump administration declares Montgomery Village, MC Germantown, parts of Gaithersburg as opportunity zones

President Donald Trump speaks with a
business owner during a press briefing on
the Opportunity Zones initiative
The Trump administration has declared downtown Wheaton, two parts of downtown Silver Spring, parts of Long Branch and White Oak, four parts of Gaithersburg - including Montgomery Village, Montgomery College's Germantown campus, and Rockville Pike (between Rockville Town Center and Twinbrook) as Opportunity Zones. Created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by President Donald Trump, the zones encourage capital investment in underserved communities through federal tax incentives. The designation comes as media and business leaders express increasingly agree that Montgomery County's economy has become moribund.
Wheaton opportunity zone
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett said the County will launch an outreach program to notify investors of the new investment opportunities. "Creating the incentive to bring capital into communities that are currently being overlooked is just a tremendous opportunity," Ivanka Trump said at a press conference on the initiative. "And the fact that this was integrated into the tax bill, which is already proving to be so beneficial for people all over this country, is just another element as we start to rebuild those distressed communities." The tax act reduced taxes for 72% of Maryland residents.
Opportunity zones in Montgomery Village
and Gaithersburg

Rockville Pike opportunity zone

Opportunity zones in downtown Silver Spring,
Long Branch and New Hampshire Estates areas

White Oak has two of the
Trump opportunity zones

Photo courtesy

Lakeforest Mall Silver Diner contents to be auctioned off today (Photos)

The contents of the long-shuttered Silver Diner at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg will be auctioned off online today, starting at 11:00 AM. Winning bidders will be allowed to retrieve their prizes from the diner on Friday. In the meantime, enjoy this time capsule of the abandoned diner frozen in time, as it appears now.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Toys R Us closing in Gaithersburg - final 12 days (Video+Photos)

The shelves are getting sparser, and the savings larger, at the soon-to-close Toys R Us at 600 Frederick Road in Gaithersburg. Signs on Sunday were warning there are only "13 days left," meaning there are just 12 days left to shop at this location as of this morning.

Some will visit one last time just for nostalgia purposes, others will seek out savings of 50-70% off - though some items labeled with such discounts still have prices that don't exactly seem like a steal.

Toys R Us is being discarded as an empty shell, after Mitt Romney's Bain Capital extracted all the remaining wealth in the company, leaving shoppers and employees on the scrap pile of their greed. One man not upset with the latest Bain vampire episode is Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer, who received a fat $500 check from Bain Capital in 2010.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Daily Kos exposes MoCo "covert Republican/developer Council slate" in Democratic primary

A cabal of developers and Republicans is spending big to determine the winners of the Democratic primary election in Montgomery County on June 26, according to an investigation published by the Daily Kos. "There is a covert Republican/developer slate for Council," author Eric Hensal writes. He identifies the covert GOP/developer slate as Democrats Gabe Albornoz, Marilyn Balcombe, Evan Glass, Hans Riemer (in the At-Large race), Andrew Friedson (District 1), and Sidney Katz (District 3).

Hensal says these are the "candidates Republican/Developer donors in Montgomery County want elected in its Democratic primary." He also cites David Blair as the covert group's Democratic choice for County Executive, and says campaign donations show developers abandoning Blair's rival Roger Berliner for Blair and Rose Krasnow.

Hensal notes the covert financing effort is a change from 2002's overt developer effort that successfully elected the laughably-named "End Gridlock" slate to the Council. The "End Gridlock" slate infamously went on to double and triple the amount of traffic gridlock, by allowing unlimited development without providing the highway capacity needed to support it.

To reach his conclusions, Hensal examined patterns of donations, and connections among donors contributing to the same candidates. He determined that many of the donors who are supporting the covert slate are also donors to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Hensal also concluded that simply using public financing did not eliminate developer influence on candidates doing so - they still receive donations from developers, and can leverage those developer donations for more public money.

In identifying the covert slate of candidates, Hensal concludes that, "The most generous view is that these candidates are simply a consensus of the Republican/Developer community. However, an ongoing coordinated effort to elect them is very possible."

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Will Montgomery County government adopt the Starbucks policy?

Montgomery County Planning Board chair
Casey Anderson surrounded by armed police
officers, called in as members of
Macedonia Baptist Church attempted to deliver
a petition during a peaceful protest last year
Montgomery County government has a Starbucks problem. County officials in the executive office, County Council, Planning Board and Housing Opportunities Commission have repeatedly called the police to confront black church leaders and protesters exercising their First Amendment rights in County government spaces. Now that the question of white people calling the police on black people has become a national hot topic, will Montgomery County government address one facet of its institutional racism by adopting the Starbucks policy of no longer calling the police?
Police confront Macedonia Baptist Church Pastor Segun Adebayo
and Social Justic Director Marsha Coleman-Adebayo at the
HOC in October 2017
Wait, did this really happen? Did white County officials really call the police on African-Americans who were simply exercising their First Amendment rights? Take a look for yourself in the following reports, for just a few of the instances:

Planning Board, February 2017

Office of the County Executive, April 2017

County Council office, May 2017

Housing Opportunities Commission, October 2017

As an activist in the County for over a decade, I have attended many public meetings and hearings, and the police were never summoned to confront or remove a white speaker or protester.

In "progressive" Montgomery County, the peaceful struggle over the Moses African Cemetery has proven to us "just how low the bar is for white Americans to sic law enforcement on black people," in the words of Mother Jones magazine. "Getting law enforcement involved is an extreme response that tends to escalate conflicts," Brandon E. Patterson wrote for the magazine in May. "For black people, that call to law enforcement can have dire consequences. That’s why it’s especially egregious when white people use 911 like a personal grievance hotline, summoning officers for something as minor as a black person arguing with restaurant staff—or because our behavior makes the caller uncomfortable, or because they think we might be up to no good."

Such frivolous calls to police are "rooted in an effort to preserve racial hierarchy by showing that black people can be removed at any time," Vox reported, quoting writer Tressie McMillan Cottom: “'At millions of places, in a billion different interactions across the country ... a white person is doing all the daily management of white spaces and places,' she wrote."

Callers may "feel that the police are there to work as their personal racism valets and remove black people from the situation," Morgan State University professor Jason Johnson told NPR last month.  "The role of the police is as law enforcement. They're supposed to be the last resort. You're supposed to ask questions, attempt to communicate and resolve things as a functional citizen. So of course, we shouldn't be calling the police on a regular basis."

Johnson, and others, have advocated the idea that callers in such cases should be fined. That may be called for, when our fabulously qualified and talented Democratic, "progressive" officials are unable to "communicate and resolve things as functional citizens."

Can we expect the County Council to adopt a Starbucks policy that County government should no longer call the police simply because African-Americans are peacefully protesting or attempting to deliver a petition? And one that would fine County officials who violate it? 

Don't bet on it. The Council has yet to even acknowledge or condemn the calls to law enforcement that came from their own, and multiple other, County government officials in the Moses African Cemetery controversy. They also have not criticized Anderson, or asked him to step down as chair of the Board.

Friday, May 25, 2018

MOM's Organic Market to open in Gaithersburg June 1

The long-awaited opening of MOM's Organic Market at 10 Upper Rock Circle is almost here. It will open June 1, 2018, and the local chain will be holding an opening weekend celebration at the store from June 1 to June 3.

Officially designated as MOM's Gaithersburg store, the market is located in JBG Smith's Upper Rock development, which is within the city limits of Rockville. A historic office building was torn down to clear the way for this new retail center, which is convenient from both the adjacent Gables Upper Rock apartments and I-270 (just take the Shady Grove Road exit and head east, and it's the first thing you see on the right past the interchange [you'll see the CVS Pharmacy, which is in the same shopping center]).

Opening weekend will include tastings of local foods, kids' activities and giveaways. You'll also have the opportunity to meet representatives from environmental organizations like Waterkeepers Chesapeake and Trash Free Maryland, and staff from Montgomery Parks' Brookside Gardens.

The new MOM's will feature only the highest-quality organic produce, an all-organic vegetarian eatery called Naked Lunch, sustainable insect proteins, a Backyard Beekeeping section with everything you need for this important environmental activity, free car-charging stations, only sustainable seafood (including canned tuna), a wide selection of GOTS-certified organic and sustainable clothing, a liquid bulk section featuring goods like vinegar and honey, a recycling center that can handle household items like cell phones and household batteries, and a large Health and Wellness department, where you can find everything from bulk organic herbs to bulk soap, bath salts and body scrubs.

MOM's does not carry any products that use cartoon characters to target children, and this location will be no exception. 5% of the grand opening sales will be donated to Waterkeepers Chesapeake. MOM's is one of the more on-target tenant choices in Upper Rock, considering that the city envisioned the development as a community for the "creative class" of young professionals. It sounds like they have a wider variety of merchandise than Whole Foods, as well.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Helpless Hans Riemer out of his depth on MoCo's moribund economy

Montgomery County Council President Helpless Hans Riemer appeared lost in his laughably-disastrous attempts to dismiss growing media reports of the county's tanking economy. Confronted with data from the United States government showing Montgomery at rock bottom in growth of new businesses in the region, and suffering from a stagnant economy, Riemer rambled incoherently for 30 minutes before reporters Monday - while frequently consulting cue cards on the table prepared by his staff. If you play a drinking game taking a shot each time Riemer looks down at his cue cards, you'll be knocked out a few minutes into the press conference.

Many are still trying to translate Riemer's stream-of-consciousness remarks Monday. At one point, Riemer responded to a reporter who challenged him to cite a specific error in the Sage Policy Group report with this whopper: "If you combine four or five points, seem (sic) to create a version of reality that is really a very distorted version of reality. So that's, that's fundamentally, you know, whether one data point from one year to another year might have shown what that report showed isn't really the point."


That wasn't even grammatically correct or logically coherent, much less an answer to the reporter's demand for specifics.

Ignore the official government data, Riemer advised reporters, suggesting that his own anecdotal thoughts somehow trump numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). He then threw out a number of ridiculously absurd excuses for Montgomery's woes, even while claiming there are no woes.

Riemer pointed to the federal budget sequestration impact. That made no sense, because sequestration had a far greater impact on Northern Virginia in recent years, as counties like Fairfax are home to many more defense contractors than Montgomery County. Yet Fairfax County enjoyed a net gain of 3000 new businesses this decade - which included the sequestration years. How many did Montgomery County gain over the same period? Six. SIX! Humiliating, but certainly not the fault of sequestration, as the Fairfax boom proves.

The Council President also argued the Great Recession was to blame, and that Montgomery County was enjoying "better outcomes" than other jurisdictions in the region. Again, totally false. Despite the recession "slowing down" the regional economy, all the other jurisdictions around us outperformed Montgomery County. In fact, Montgomery County was whipped across the board in economic development and job creation by not only Fairfax, Loudoun and other wealthy D.C.-area counties, but even by upstart whippersnappers like Culpeper, Spotsylvania and Rappahannock Counties.

Riemer really went off the deep end by touting Montgomery County's low unemployment rate and high incomes. Neither statistic actually has anything to do with the strength of Montgomery County's economy. They simply mean that Montgomery County residents are employed in high-wage jobs outside of our county, in places like D.C. and Fairfax County. Low unemployment in no way reflects the number of jobs in a jurisdiction, only the employment status of its residents. Yet Riemer said the low number of new businesses created this decade in Montgomery couldn't possibly be true, because of our low unemployment rate. Huh? The two statistics have nothing to do with each other.

One has to worry that someone with as poor of a grasp of basic economic concepts and data as Helpless Hans Riemer is currently in charge of directing the county's economic future. If someone actually believes that the unemployment rate reflects the number of jobs created within Montgomery County, they are clueless about economic development. God help us!

Most entertaining were the many times Riemer couldn't find an answer to a reporter's question on the cue cards in front of him. After searching his flash cards frantically for an answer to exactly why Sage's new business number was somehow wrong, Helpless Hans looked, well, helplessly around the room. "I think I'm going to have to refer you to Council staff for the exact details about why this new business starts [sigh] conversation is just out in left field."

Wait, the Council President doesn't know the numbers? And he's in charge of the next budget, and getting paid $137,000 for this job? Wow. Humiliating. If he doesn't know the numbers, why is he challenging the report?

Riemer then suggested the new business starts number doesn't correspond with other data from BLS.

"Okay, so what does BLS say?" a reporter pressed.

Riemer looked helplessly around the room again. "I don't know if Council staff is here," he stammered. "You'll have to, I'll have to, to get you together with Gene, um, after today."


Andrew Metcalf of Bethesda Magazine asked Riemer regarding the County's Economic Development Corporation, "Can you think of any major accomplishments or achievements they have? What exactly has MCEDC done in the last two years?"

Riemer consulted his cue cards again to no avail. "Okay, so, what are the successes of the Economic Development Corporation? Um, [grimaces] I might need a little staff here. Uh, you know, uh, yeah, my economic development team is not here."

Asked when Montgomery County opened dialogue with Discovery Communications after it was known they were considering relocating from Silver Spring, Riemer replied, "I don't have that information." In other words, there was no dialogue.

As they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem. Riemer is clearly not yet prepared to take that step. And as a result, Montgomery County's moribund economy cannot move forward until he is replaced.